Comment: Revolutionising manufacturing with Industrial IoT

3 min read

The opportunities that Industrial IoT (IIoT) presents for manufacturers are exciting, but there are numerous obstacles they must overcome as they embark on the journey, says Mariusz Stolarski, global head of technology, Mobica.

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling manufacturers to reimagine the relationships they have with their customers. There are a host of opportunities opening up for businesses to expand their offering beyond products and into digital services – hence the proliferation over the past few years of ‘everything-as-a-service’.

The creation of a service-led offering brings numerous benefits. In addition to securing a new source of income, it can also improve customer loyalty and enable recurring revenues, through a subscription-based business model.

The emergence of IoT has enabled this model to flourish. Connected solutions allow manufacturers to capture and capitalise on the data they have at their fingertips and turn it into something valuable to their customers. With a market expected to surpass $1 trillion by 2028, IoT is already being embraced by industries keen to reap the rewards.

But, while the opportunities that Industrial IoT (IIoT) presents for manufacturers are exciting, there are numerous obstacles they must overcome as they embark on the journey - not least because many will need to rethink how their business operates to adopt a more service-led mindset.

Overcome the obstacles

The biggest concern for manufacturers is whether they have the people and infrastructure in place to develop IIoT-enabled solutions effectively. For many, it will mean accessing a skill set that encompasses a range of technologies outside of their comfort zone – including embedded solutions, edge computing, connectivity and cloud services.

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This expertise will be essential, as any business looking to develop an IIoT service offering will be confronted with several key considerations along the way. These include:

  • Location of the device – This can have a huge bearing on how technologies are deployed in IIoT scenarios, as it affects how devices are powered and how data is accessed. The need to process lots of data, quickly, may require 5G or WiFi - but location does not always allow this. A drone flying around an industrial plant detecting leaks, for example, may rely on a cellular connection, while a device based at sea will require satellite communications. Devices in hard-to-reach locations may remain in situ for years – so understanding how much energy they will use and how they can be maintained and updated are vital.
  • Data transfer – Ideally, manufacturers should consider processing as much data as possible at the Edge – either on the device or close to where data has been generated. The benefits of the Edge, as opposed to the Cloud, are numerous – reduced bandwidth, latency requirements, energy consumption and costs. Inevitably some data will need to be sent to the cloud, but companies need to weigh up the cost versus benefit for the business, and for customers. For example, what degree of latency is acceptable? if you’re developing an asset tracker, do you really need to send data when the asset is not moving?
  • Computational power - Processing data at the Edge requires devices to have sufficient computational power. Yet again, consideration needs to be given to cost versus benefit. Companies will want to limit the amount of silicon in devices. But if a device is going to be in situ for a significant amount of time, they need to ensure there will be enough power to accommodate flexibility, scalability and updates in the long term.
  • Security and reliability – IIoT enabled devices often handle sensitive or safety critical information, so protecting that data is essential. To limit any vulnerabilities, businesses should adopt a test-driven approach. Companies will have to reassure end users that data is protected and that protocols have been followed. They will also need to prove that they can meet strict Service Level Agreement (SLAs) that guarantee reliability – in the event of power cuts or internet failure, for example. Creating additional redundancy at device level, rather than relying on the internet, can add a layer of protection.
  • Data visualisation – The presentation layer is key. It enables end users to make sense of the vast amounts of data being presented to them. But making this user-friendly, intuitive and as relevant as possible is not always prioritised. Companies need to consider several factors here, such as where their customers will be when they access the information – will they view via a web portal or app, for instance. Workers in industrial settings might be operating in confined spaces, at sea or on the move. This all impacts how the presentation layer should be customised.

There’s no doubt that the emergence of IIoT is enticing for ambitious industrial product manufacturers. Companies just need to bear in mind that decisions made at the development stage will have a huge impact of the quality, performance and profitability of the services they build. But, when they get it right, manufacturers have an enormous opportunity to unlock new revenue streams and future-proof their businesses.

Mariusz Stolarski, global head of technology, Mobica